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The Great American Smokeout

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Kristin Davis

We all know that smoking is bad for our health, but did you know that it is actually the number one cause of death from an illness that could have otherwise been prevented? That’s why the American Cancer Society has made combatting smoking and tobacco use one of their top priorities by establishing the Great American Smokeout (GASO), a nationally recognized social campaign dedicated to encouraging smokers to quit. Although it's just one day, for many people it's the beginning of what could be a potentially life-saving journey. Continue reading to learn more about this event as well as access helpful resources and discover how you can participate to help smokers quit!

The History Of The Great American Smokeout 

The Great American Smokeout was officially founded by the American Cancer Society on November 16, 1977, after evolving from a series of smaller-scale initiatives. Their mission was and is to bring awareness to the long-term effects of smoking as well as encourage current-smokers to quit for a whole day in hopes of kick-starting their journey to a tobacco free life. With the continuous support from non-smoking advocates and healthcare professionals at multiple different facilities including the American Cancer Association, the impact of the GASO cannot be understated. In fact, from the years 1965-2016 cigarette smoking in American adults has decreased from 43% to 15.5% with more and more of the public becoming aware of the consequences that come from smoking. Since its creation, the GASO has influenced numerous anti-smoking advocacy efforts nationwide such as: 

  • Initiating area limitations for smoking in restaurants starting in Berkeley, CA in 1977 
  • Creating the federal smoke-free law for all domestic flights over 6 hours in 1990
  • Inspiring the Family Prevention Smoking Control Act of 2009
  • Requiring big tobacco companies to officially administer corrective statements about the dangers of cigarette smoking on both national television and newspapers in 2018

Diseases Related To Smoking

With the health of everyone in mind, it is extremely important to discuss the serious illnesses directly caused by tobacco use not only to highlight the importance of quitting but to also help current smokers be mindful of the critical warning signs of diseases such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer and many more. Let's take a closer look at some of the more dangerous and common diseases caused by smoking:

Heart Disease

Since cigarette fumes do build up plaque in the arteries, approximately one in every four deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a direct result of smoking. CVD is a chronic disease that can lead to heart attack, stroke and aneurysms. Warning signs include chest pain/tightness, shortness of breath, numbness/coldness in arms and/or legs as well as pain in the neck, jaw or chest. Risk of CVD related health problems increases with the amount of cigarettes smoked as well as the frequency at which smoking occurs. So much so, that within a year of quitting, the risk for heart attack dramatically decreases for smokers and within five years, the risk of stroke is lowered to that of someone who has never smoked before in their life. If you or a loved one smokes or is frequently exposed to second-hand smoke and exhibits any of the symptoms listed above, contact a doctor immediately.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is actually a group of different diseases that damage the airways or air sacs and block air-flow, causing breathing difficulties. What is especially dangerous about COPD is that many people do not even realize that they have it. In early stages, it is fairly common to not have direct or obvious symptoms and even as symptoms progress they can be easily dismissible for smokers as a cough or shortness of breath are common side-effects of smoking. Although most cases of COPD are caused by direct smoking, 1 in 4 adults with COPD are non-smokers and have accrued their lung-damage through other irritants, usually second-hand smoke. That being said, regardless of how COPD is contracted, it kills over 140,000 Americans per year. If you notice a severe cough, shortness of breath, tightness in chest or wheezing, talk to your doctor immediately and consider reaching out for treatment.


Cancer is perhaps one of the most dreaded and difficult diseases of our time. It is no secret that smoking in many cases leads to cancer, specifically that of the throat (laryngeal) and lungs. Cancer occurs when abnormal cells continuously divide out of control and invade tissues in the body. Not only can smoking cause cancer, but it can directly prevent your body from fighting it. Toxins found in cigarettes are known to weaken the body’s immune system which allows the cancer cells to grow without being stopped or even slowed in the process. So the fact that smoking makes the body weaker to fight the very cancer it causes is even more concerning when you also note that 9 out of 10 lung cancer diagnoses today are directly tied to smoking.

Most likely due to the chemicals used and the current production practices - today’s smokers have been found to be at an even greater risk for lung cancer than smokers were in 1964, despite the fact that they smoke less cigarettes than the public did back then. If you are a smoker, it is important to schedule routine screenings for cancer. Contact your doctor immediately if you exhibit symptoms of lumps, accelerated or unexplained weight change, discomfort eating or swallowing, unusual bleeding or excessive fatigue.

The Challenges and Benefits Of Quitting Tobacco

Despite being aware of the side effects (including those that are potentially life-threatening and/or fatal) many smokers still struggle to quit considering nicotine is one of the most addictive substances in the history of the world. Furthermore, because smoking is socially acceptable and easily accessible to the public, it is more difficult to effectively expose the ever present dangers, but also promote the benefits of living smoke-free. In fact, within minutes of quitting, the body begins to heal itself and recovery symptoms immediately appear as heart rate and blood pressure lower. By 12 hours, the levels of carbon monoxide in your blood are back to normal and in 2 weeks both lung function as well as blood circulation greatly improve. After the first few months, your lungs start functioning normally again and your risk of heart failure decreases dramatically within one year of quitting. This being said, ten years are taken off of your life when compared to the life-expectancy of a non-smoker so, ultimately, no matter your age - quitting can give you back time that was otherwise at risk. Click here to learn more about the benefits of quitting. 

How To Get Involved! #Smokeout2020

Whether you’re a current or recovered smoker or even just a family member or friend of someone who smokes, it is an all too common habit that we can work to continuously reduce in our own communities and around the world. You can get involved by pledging to quit, sharing your quitting journey or encouraging loved ones and neighbors to live smoke free for this year's Great American Smokeout! Check out their webpage to learn even more!

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